“Get sick and die!” yells mohican-sporting Eikichi Tamura (Ryuhei Matsuda) into the mic as he sings onstage before a club full of headbangers.
Despite the energy and vitality of the performance, there is a strong sense of mortality clinging to this opening scene from Shuichi Okita’s The Mohican Comes Home (Mohican Kokyo ni Kaeru). Eikichi fronts a death metal band called the Grim Reapers – and his song is a memento mori whose shouted lyrics catalogue “a million ways to die!” After the gig, similar preoccupations filter into the contrasting quiet of the green room, where, hilariously, one of the band’s members complains about struggling on his earnings to keep up “with bills and health care payments.” Like everyone else, these young(ish) punks must somehow make ends meet and insure themselves against the inevitability of sickness and death.
Now, for the first time in seven years, Eikichi is returning from Tokyo to his childhood home on a small island in Hiroshima Prefecture, to introduce girlfriend Yuka (Atsuko Maeda) to his father Osamu (Akira Emoto), mother Haruko (Masako Motai) and younger brother Koji (Yudai Chiba). Feckless, vague, something of a failure and a bit lost, Eikichi is seeking his father’s guidance and approval as he is himself about to become a father. Osamu, who named his son after his favourite rock star Eikichi Yazawa and has always wanted similar success for him, responds to this news with a mercurial mixture of anger and joy. After a hastily arranged congratulatory party, the old man collapses – and soon the reunited family is having to deal not just with Yuka’s pregnancy, but with Osamu’s terminal cancer. Get sick and die indeed.
Birth and death. Weddings and funerals. The Mohican Comes Home explores a fine line between comedy and tragedy, its ‘gentle’ observational humour tempered by an occasionally raucous soundtrack (including at one late moment when its loud intrusion is most unexpected, and all the funnier for that). Viewers familiar with Okita’s previous features like The Woodsman and the Rain (2011) and especially A Story of Yonosuke (2013) will recognise – and welcome – the writer/director’s fine eye for the absurd, and his careful way of approaching weighty themes without ever drifting into overwrought melodrama.
Much of this stems from Okita’s ability to create characters who always ring true in spite, or perhaps because, of their refusal to conform to received types and expectations. Take, for example, the protuberance of green-dyed hair on Eikichi’s head which gives the film its title. It is a clear signifier of otherness, and ought – like Henry Spencer’s upturned coiffure in Eraserhead (1977) or the Leningrad Cowboys’ spiky foot-long quiffs – immediately to mark our hero as an eternal outsider. Yet Okita’s film is as much concerned with traditions as with their discontinuation, and Eikichi’s tonsorial rebellion (“Never!” he replies whenever asked to get a haircut) really just shows how close to, rather than far from, the tree he has fallen. After all, Osamu is himself something of a rebel, albeit from a different era, as is suggested by his natty suit-spats-and-hat combo, by his ongoing obsession with local-rocker-done-good Ozawa, and by his insistence that the junior high orchestra that he conducts play arrangements of Ozawa’s songs. Really, despite his “get a job” refrain, Osamu does not mind if Eikichi is not a salaryman, a banker or, like himself, a shopkeeper. Rather he just wants his son to be Ozawa – and for a brief, miraculously bittersweet moment in the film, Osamu will get his wish.
“Go back to Tokyo,” are words uttered several times by Osamu (and once by Haruko). The Mohican Comes Home may be a domestic drama about intergenerational relations, but in many ways it is an antidote to perhaps the most famous film in this genre, Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953). It is not just that its traffic is in the opposite direction (this time from rather than to Tokyo), but also that Eikichi and Yuka keep extending their Hiroshima visit in order to look after the increasingly sickly father and support the mother – and Koji, too, is a model of filial devotion. The last half of the film concerns Eikichi’s attempts to realise Osamu’s bucket list, with a simple request (for pizza) receiving a logistically complicated fulfilment, and a difficult request (a home visit from Ozawa) receiving an easier, if more emotive, solution. Such acts of piety confer upon Eikichi an endearing, understated kind of heroism that overrides his lack of achievement or intellect (“I’m not smart,” Yuka confides in Haruko, “so we’re a good match.”)
In a letter to the Reapers, Eikichi writes, “I know now what’s important for the band’s future: we need to be healthy.” It is a message which Okita’s film, though disease-focused, still manages to bring right home.
© Anton Bitel